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Snapchat raises $1.81 billion in new funding round

Messaging app Snapchat has raised $1.81 billion in funding, the company reported in a U.S. regulatory filing on Thursday, a sign that investor interest is strong despite concerns among some venture capitalists that the platform is struggling to attract advertisers. Venture capital database PitchBook estimated the company's valuation after the financing at $17.81 billion, up from $16 billion at it most recent financing in February. The company, which makes a free mobile app that allows users to send videos, photos and messages that vanish in seconds, did not respond to emailed questions about the financing.Snapchat, headquartered in Venice, California, has faced concerns from big investors familiar with the company that its estimated valuation is not justified because of an uneven revenue stream. Its advertising business, which began last October, is the company's only significant revenue source. But, with a strong user base of 13- to 24-year-olds, the app provides an attractive platform to reach millennials and hook young consumers on brands. The company has more than 100 million active users, about 60 percent of whom are 13- to 24-year-olds.Snapchat early this year raised $175 million from Fidelity Investments in a "flat round" of financing that did not adjust the company's valuation. The mutual fund bought shares at $30.72 each. Fidelity has repeatedly adjusted the estimated valuation of its stake in the company, slashing it by at least 25 percent last year only to boost it by more than 60 percent in February.Investors in this latest round include General Atlantic, Sequoia Capital, T. Rowe Price and Lone Pine, among others, tech blog TechCrunch reported on Thursday, citing unidentified sources. (tcrn.ch/1U95CAK) TechCrunch also reported that Snapchat's revenues in 2015 were $59 million, according to a presentation to investors that was seen by the news site. That's up from $3.1 million for the first 11 months of 2014, sources told Reuters last year. (Reporting by Anya George Tharakan in Bengaluru and Heather Somerville in San Francisco.; Editing by Anil D'Silva and Cynthia Osterman)

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Dinosaur duo sported exotic spikes and horns

WASHINGTON Two newly discovered dinosaurs unearthed in the western U.S. states of Montana and Utah are illustrating the exotic appearance some of these beasts developed, with fanciful horns and spikes, toward the end of their reign on Earth.Scientists on Wednesday announced the discovery of fossils of two species that provide new insights into an important group of truck-sized, four-legged, plant-munching, horned dinosaurs that roamed the landscape late in the Cretaceous Period.Both dinosaurs were members of a group called ceratopsians that included the well-known Triceratops, typically possessing parrot-like beaks to crop low-growing herbs and shrubs, a bony neck shield, or frill, and forward-pointing facial horns. Fossils of Machairoceratops cronusi, which lived about 77 million years ago, were found in Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.Machairoceratops, up to 26 feet (8 meters) long, had two large, forward-curving spikes coming out of the back of its shield, each marked by a peculiar groove extending from the base of the spike to the tip, Ohio University paleontologist Eric Lund said. Machairoceratops also had two horns over its eyes and probably one over its nose, although the incomplete fossils did not show that. Fossils of Spiclypeus shipporum, which lived about 76 million years ago, were discovered near the town of Winifred, Montana.Spiclypeus, about 15 feet (4.5 meters) long, boasted brow horns sticking out sideways rather than pointing forward, paleontologist Jordan Mallon of the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa said. It had spikes at the back of its frill that pointed in different directions: some curling forward and others projecting outward, Mallon said. "We think the horns and frills were probably used for display of some sort, either for sexual or species recognition," Mallon said.This Spiclypeus individual was dubbed "Judith" because the fossils came from the Judith River rock formation. Judith apparently lived a painful life. The upper bone in its left front leg bore signs of disease: arthritis near the shoulder joint and a hole near the elbow caused by a bone infection."I think Spiclypeus wins top prize for being the most aesthetically pleasing horned dinosaur, but that's my bias talking," Mallon said. "I think a visitor to the Late Cretaceous would have been immediately intimidated by standing in the shadow of Judith's spiky skull, but then overcome with sympathy after noting the animal ambling about painfully on only three legs."The research was published in the journal PLOS ONE. (Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Ancient lava bubbles reveal conditions on primordial Earth

WASHINGTON Tiny bubbles that formed inside volcanic rock 2.7 billion years ago are providing big insights into the conditions on primordial Earth.Scientists said an analysis of gas bubbles trapped in ancient basalt rock that formed from ancient lava flows in western Australia showed the planet back then possessed a much thinner atmosphere, with air pressure half of what it is today.That finding contradicts a long-held notion that Earth then had a thicker atmosphere to compensate for a fainter sun, with sunlight about 15 percent dimmer. The sun is slowly brightening over time, part of a star's natural evolution.Earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago. The planet 2.7 billion years ago was still much different than it is today.In addition to the fainter sun, the air lacked oxygen, the moon was closer so tides were stronger, Earth spun more quickly so days were shorter, and the only life forms were single-cell microbes, said study leader Sanjoy Som, CEO of Seattle-based Blue Marble Space, a nonprofit organization focusing on space science research, education and public outreach. The findings demonstrate that "a planetary environment completely different than modern Earth can sustain life on its surface," said Som, who worked on the study while at the University of Washingto​n and is now based at NASA's Ames Research Center in California."Life doesn't need conditions like modern Earth to survive and thrive. This is important in our quest for habitable environments in extra-solar planets," Som added. The scientists used sophisticated scanning technology to analyze the size and distribution of bubbles within the ancient lava rock found along the shores of Australia's Beasley River that solidified at sea level.Lava flows cool rapidly from top and bottom, with bubbles trapped at the bottom being smaller than those at the top. The size difference in these bubbles provided a record of the atmospheric pressure pushing down on the molten rock as it cooled, the researchers said.The findings suggest Earth's atmosphere was rich in greenhouse gases. "This study doesn't yield direct knowledge about the air composition," Som said. "Nonetheless, because most of the air pressure is nitrogen, and you needed greenhouse gases to compensate for a faint sun, methane - a powerful greenhouse gas - was a likely important constituent, as well as water vapor - another powerful greenhouse gas."The research was published in the journal Nature Geoscience. (Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Report claiming bias in Facebook 'trending' topics sparks social media outcry

Facebook (FB.O) workers have often omitted conservative political stories from the website’s "trending" list, the technology news site Gizmodo said on Monday in a report that sparked widespread comment on social media.An unnamed former Facebook employee told Gizmodo that workers "routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers," according to Gizmodo, while "artificially" adding other stories into the trending list.Facebook told Reuters on Monday that there are "rigorous guidelines in place" to maintain neutrality and said that these guidelines do not prohibit any news outlet from appearing in trending topics.Facebook did not respond directly though to questions about whether employees had suppressed conservative-leaning news."These guidelines do not permit the suppression of political perspectives. Nor do they permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or one news outlet over another," a spokesperson for Facebook said. The report alarmed some social media users, with several journalists and commentators criticizing Facebook for alleged bias."Aside from fueling right-wing persecution, this is a key reminder of dangers of Silicon Valley controlling content," tweeted journalist Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald)."Well, you go to Hell, Facebook," tweeted Kyle Feldscher (@Kyle_Feldscher), a reporter at the Washington Examiner, a conservative-leaning publication. "For anyone who cares about press freedom, this is frightening stuff," tweeted Bloomberg Editor Bill Grueskin (@BGrueskin), with a link to Gizmodo's story."Former Facebook Workers" quickly became one of the top-ten trending topics on Twitter (TWTR.N) in the U.S. after the Gizmodo story broke.The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), one of the groups reportedly blocked from Facebook's trending list, said it would closely monitor how the claims against Facebook unfold. "If we can confirm that the allegations are true and accurate, that would be disappointing," said CPAC Communications Director Ian Walters, who added that he was sensitive to the fact that the claims are as of yet unconfirmed.A post on Facebook's help center said that the "trending" section of the site "shows you topics that have recently become popular on Facebook." It lists "engagement, timeliness, Pages you've liked and your location" as some of the factors that determine what trends show up for each Facebook user. Facebook users can also manually remove certain topics from their trending list. (Reporting By Amy Tennery)

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Mercury poised for rare 'transit' across sun's face on Monday

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Stargazers will have a rare opportunity on Monday to witness Mercury fly directly across the face of the sun, a sight that unfolds once every 10 years or so, as Earth and its smaller neighboring planet come into perfect alignment. The best vantage points to observe the celestial event, known to astronomers as a transit, are eastern North America, South America, Western Europe and Africa, assuming clouds are not obscuring the sun. In those regions, the entire transit will occur during daylight hours, according to Sky and Telescope magazine.But Mercury is too small to see without high-powered binoculars or a telescope, and looking directly at the sun, even with sunglasses, could cause permanent eye damage. Fortunately NASA and astronomy organizations are providing virtual ringside seats for the show by live-streaming images of the transit in its entirety and providing expert commentary.The tiny planet, slightly larger than Earth’s moon, will start off as a small black dot on the edge of the sun at 7:12 a.m. Eastern (1112 GMT). Traveling 30 miles (48 km) a second, Mercury will take 7.5 hours to cross the face of the sun, which is about 864,300 miles (1.39 million km) in diameter, or about 109 times larger than Earth.“Unlike sunspots, which have irregular shapes and grayish borders, Mercury’s silhouette will be black and precisely round,” Sky and Telescope said in a press release. The event will come into view in the western United States after dawn, with the transit already in progress. The show will end at sunset in parts of Europe, Africa and most of Asia.NASA Television, available on the Internet, will broadcast live video and images from the orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory and other telescopes. The show includes informal discussions with NASA scientists, who will answer questions submitted via Twitter using the hashtag #AskNASA.Other options for armchair astronomers include: - SkyandTelescope.com plans a live webcast with expert commentary, beginning at 7 a.m. EDT/1100 GMT.- Slooh.com, which offers live telescope viewing via the Internet, will host a show on its website featuring images of Mercury taken by observatories around the globe. - Europe’s Virtual Telescope, another robotic telescope network, will webcast the transit at www.virtualtelescope.eu Scientists will take advantage of Mercury’s transit for a variety of science projects, including refining techniques to look for planets beyond the solar system. “When a planet crosses in front of the sun, it causes the sun’s brightness to dim. Scientists can measure similar brightness dips from other stars to find planets orbiting them,” NASA said.Mercury's last transit was in 2006 and the planet will pass between the sun and Earth again in 2019. After that, the next opportunity to witness the event will not come until 2032. (Editing by Frank McGurty and James Dalgleish)

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